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Apple Mac mini (Late 2009) review



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Apple Mac mini (Late 2009)
  • Apple Mac mini (Late 2009)
  • Apple Mac mini (Late 2009)
  • Apple Mac mini (Late 2009)
  • Apple Mac mini (Late 2009)
  • Apple Mac mini (Late 2009)
  • Mac mini MC238B/A Desktop Computer - Intel Core 2 Duo Dual-core 2.26 GHz - Small Desktop (2 GB DDR3 SDRAM - 160 GB HDD - Dual-Layer Media Support: Yes - Gigabit Ethernet - Wi-Fi: Yes - IEEE 802.11n - Bluetooth: Yes 256 MB - DisplayPort: Yes - Green)


Our Score:


It's a testament to the brilliance of the original Mac mini design that, as far as any consumer is likely to notice, it has barely changed since its inception. A look around the rear of this system reveals a notably changed port arrangement than on preceding models, but it is the internals that have seen the biggest update - in fact, it's only the internals that are different this iteration.

Whereas the most recent refresh before this brought the Mac mini up to date, hardware wise, with its peers, the current changes are 'just' spec bumps. Importantly, though, although there's no fundamental changes in the hardware on offer, the base specs at both the £499 and £649 price points have been raised. The cheaper Mac now gets a 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, 2GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive as standard, while the £649 mini I have on my desk comes with a 2.53GHz processor, 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive.

A 2.66GHz CPU upgrade is available for £120, but you'd be mad certifiably insane to spend an extra 18 per cent on the cost of the system for a five per cent speed boost. The £70 to upgrade the hard drive from 320GB to 500GB is on the dear side, too, but then when has Apple ever offered cheap upgrades? Some solace can be taken in the provision of £70-odd iLife '09 which takes care of most of the functionality you might want out of the box, which isn't already built into OS X.

Strictly speaking, the latest update has ushered in a noteworthy change in the external hardware, but not for your average user. The Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server is, as the name suggests, a mini with an unlimited client license for Apple's Server software. The significant difference, however, is that the DVD drive is eschewed in favour of a second hard drive, with two 500GB drives offered at most. Considering your next best option for an OS X-based server is a £1,899 Mac Pro it's a nice addition to the product range for small businesses customers.

It's a safe move for Apple, too. No business that was seriously considering a Mac Pro is going to look at the Mac mini server and think: "yep, that will do the job instead." The cost of offering a slightly different version of the mini chassis is likely negligible, too, so for all intents and purposes I imagine the price difference between the top spec mini and the version with Snow Leopard Server is almost all profit in Apple's pocket - nice!


November 6, 2009, 6:27 am

Ah, Mac mini's are magical things. I'd buy another in a heartbeat but my original Core Duo Mac mini still flies! No, they're not great value (especially if, like me, you buy it with an Apple display and some HK SoundSticks... LoL) but... there's just something about them. It's a love thing!


November 6, 2009, 12:49 pm

mac mini's are great for connecting to a big LCD TV, and they look fantastic on the TV Shelf, The Imac's For me are a desktop Machine, and the 27 is probably great for watching a movie too, but the Mini conneted to my 46" LCD TV ownz the imac


November 6, 2009, 2:46 pm

Central to your verdict (and your 5/10 Value score) seems to be that the Mac mini isn't an iMac.

Quite right... it isn't. But the £499 version *is* a cracking Home Theatre PC. Running BBC iPlayer or Spotify, renting HD movies from iTunes, video-Skyping and browsing web photo albums at 1080p on a 50" screen leaves visitors in awe of this quiet discreet box under the TV.


November 6, 2009, 3:17 pm

Kudos to Hugo and TR on another great review :)

The Mac mini is totally cute but, yes, the iMac is a much better value proposition. But as Ironduke points out, it is targetted at different markets. The new iMacs are lovely but... they have glossy screens with no option of having, even to special order, a matte display. For many users this is unimportant, but for some users, especially those editing video, matte screens are preferable. On a purely personal level, I tried using a glossy screen but couldn't get past the reflections.


November 6, 2009, 4:36 pm

"but... there's just something about them. It's a love thing!"

OMG there it is! The reason why consumers continue to buy Apples overpriced hardware :D


November 6, 2009, 4:53 pm

The price is a bit rediculous... especially when the original was around £300. Unfortunatly £649 will buy you a lot of PC. That's what ultimatly would stop me getting one. Although second hand Macs do make a lot more sense.


November 6, 2009, 5:24 pm

@deus1066 - The price TR seem to be quoting is for the more expensive 320GB HD, 4GB RAM, 2.53 GHZ CPU model. I don't think you'd be missing out too much by going for the £499 model, unless you're heavily into virtualisation or need 4GB (not 2GB) of memory, and a bigger HD/faster CPU.

I have the early 2009 model, and it's fast enough for me. Also, you're paying for the use of OS X, which you can't use on a PC unless you build a Hackintosh. It's up to you whether that price is worth paying.

And mustn't forget you're paying for the small form factor too. Compare a similarly small (and specced - not Atom) PC, like the Dell Studio Hybrid, and they come out about the same price.


November 6, 2009, 6:33 pm

@Pbryanw: dell studio hybrid, 2.1GHz, 4GB RAM, 320GB HDD and Blu-ray £550 and it has proper display outputs (HDMI and DVI) and a wireless keyboard and mouse and it's not exactly ugly compared to the mac, with the processor it will still play HD flash and HD movies from iTunes so should be better under the TV IMO


November 6, 2009, 6:42 pm

@Pbryanw - Indeed while that is true, I guess the small form factor does't hold as much appeal for me bearing in mind I lose easy upgradability... which pretty much rules the imac out too. And while OSX is (in my opinion) in many ways a superior OS, since I've been using windows 7 since May I think they're close enough for OSX to no longer be such a big draw. I guess in an ideal world Apple would licence OSX out and let third party manufactures make the hardware too... that way prices would drop and there would be much more choice.

Anyway, it probably won't be for another year until I'm seriously shopping for another computer.


November 6, 2009, 9:11 pm

I agree £499 is a bit steep. However, I don't know of anything that is as good as the Mini for less money. The Dell Studio Hybrid has worse graphics hardware and is bigger and uglier. Once you specify 2gb of RAM and a wireless n card, it costs £404. I guess it's 5/10 for value too.


November 6, 2009, 9:47 pm

@andybee: I don't know of anything that is as good as the Mini for less money

I think this is an absolute corker for £300 ->


I'm using the older 230 model and it's a fantastic piece of kit for use with XBMC.

Btw. using Ubuntu even the older 230 model plays flash movies without problems, either play inside XBMC or Opera and it's fine. For some reason it's a little laggy in Firefox.

Digital Fury

November 6, 2009, 9:59 pm

If you only focus on price vs. hardware when you buy a computer, clearly Macs are not for you. The 5/10 value rating is not very credible, as miniaturization is costly and some people do buy it because it's very small. Given your assessment, my Mac Pro being much more powerful and flexible in term of expansion, surely you would give iMacs a 5/10 too no?

Apples vs. oranges you know.


November 6, 2009, 10:35 pm

it doesn't help that every "challenger" to the mac mini is either woefully underpowered (i.e. intel atom) or woefully butt ugly. even trying to find an attractive SFF case is difficult.


November 7, 2009, 12:23 am

The Mac Mini is darn cute, but with its slow and non-overclockable last-generation processor and low-end mobile class graphics, it's just not suitable for modern games. It should be able to handle most other everyday computing tasks with aplomb (except perhaps ripping movies), but if you'd like to play modern games, look elsewhere.

The Mac Pro is certainly powerful enough to run games, except the graphics card options suck, but with the insane overkill of having dual-Xeons and ECC FBDIMM RAMs, it's pricey as hell anyway! It's a great workstation for serious computing needs, but it's not a reasonable choice for a mere gamer by any stretch of the imagination.

The high-end 27" iMac has the right processor for gaming and an amazing hi-res IPS screen to boot, but sports a graphics card that's (a) far too weak to drive such a screen at native resolution even today, and (b) can't be upgraded, ever. It's just not the right choice for gaming, period.

So, what's a serious Mac fan with three teenage gamers going to do, when two of the five macs in the house need replacing?

Build two gaming PC's and install Windows 7, that's what!

Yes, amazingly enough, I finally made 'the switch', only in the wrong direction. I never wanted to do this, because Mac OS X is and remains the best OS on the planet, but Apple's stubborn refusal to let people decide what they want in a computer for themselves finally forced my hand.

And guess what, Windows 7 isn't that bad after all. I can live with it, especially since Apple won't give me a choice.

I'd gladly pay 300 Euros for OS X, capable of installing on generic PC hardware, but Apple won't sell it.

I'd gladly pay 500 Euros for OS X, locked down to an Apple-made mATX motherboard, but Apple won't sell it.

I'd gladly pay whatever Apple saw fit charging for a 'Mac Midi' with a single PCI-X expansion slot, and room for a full-length video card, but Apple won't sell it.

We customers have asked for this simple thing (a gaming-capable Mac) for years and years, but Apple just keps giving us the finger. I think it's time we loyal Mac customers start giving Apple the finger right back. Apple doesn't deserve our loyalty.

I wanted to buy two premium gaming machines, but Apple wouldn't cater to that need, so I built PC's instead. The lure of OS X just isn't as strong as it used to be these days.

Actually, I'm very pleased with the new PC's, having chosen top-notch components myself. There will be more such generic PC hardware entering my house in the future, that's for sure. The time is over when I would buy under-powered, over-priced hardware, designed according to Apple's 'form over function' school, just for the privilege to run an ever so slightly better OS.

There must be others beginning to feel the same way out there, so I'd dump my Apple stock if I had any.


November 7, 2009, 4:25 pm

@ Mikael

I agree with you about Apple's ability to alienate and their woeful treatment of gamers. I think this stems from Steve Jobs who has been 'anti-game' since the year dot. But didn't you consider going the Power Mac route? *Checks prices* Yeah, I see what you mean! When you say, though, the iMac's graphics card is too weak, do you mean the ATI Radeon HD 4670 or the ATI Radeon HD 4850? Or are both not up to the task? Not criticising, just wishing to know. As I wrote in my earlier comment, the lack of a matte screen is the deal breaker for me.


November 7, 2009, 5:32 pm

@Mikael - PS3, perhaps?


November 7, 2009, 7:02 pm

@Cub: PC and console gaming dont really compare, as most PC gamers would tell you, the freedom of a mouse and keyboard far outweighs a gamepad IMO


November 8, 2009, 2:39 am

This is a question as I have never used a mac for media center.

Software wise, can the Mac compete with W7 Media Center and the Media Browser plugin? I have tried every program going on the PC and nothing comes close.


November 8, 2009, 9:34 am

9/10 for design? you have to swivel the damn thing to even plug in a memory stick and then run the risk of dislodging the other cables. Perhaps my favourite bunny Cub can interject with an opinion or maybe even an essay?


November 8, 2009, 6:48 pm

@Jay - It's a personal preference, I used to be a PC gamer long ago but happily made the switch to consoles, partly because I couldn't be bothered with having to keep my PC up to spec. and spending any amount of time tweaking games and hardware to work in harmony. I much prefer a control pad and a sofa to play my games with. But, that said, I can understand why some people prefer PC gaming.

@ff - Nice hook, but I'm not biting. I like this site because generally, decent conversations are had after articles of interest. I'm not going to ruin that by setting you off.


November 9, 2009, 8:03 pm

@Alan: Software wise, can the Mac compete with W7 Media Center and the Media Browser plugin?

Yes, XBMC in Linux or PLEX for OSX version.


November 10, 2009, 9:22 pm


To each their own I guess but XBMC is flakey and Plex looks like Mediaportal. Also I don't think either do TV.

Can a Mac run Winhdows 7?

New Dell Zino HD looks good.


November 11, 2009, 6:37 pm

@Alan: To each their own I guess but XBMC is flakey and Plex looks like Mediaportal. Also I don't think either do TV.

I've never personally used Plex, but from what I gather is a special port of XMBC for the Mac, so what it looks like is skinable.

You are correct XBMC doesn't do TV, although there is ways of linking VDR/MythTV etc into it.

In what way is XBMC flakey?


November 11, 2009, 10:56 pm


Yep, the 4850 is way too weak for a screen with a massive 1440 x 2560 resolution, as the current top iMacs have. The 4850 is the budget version of the 4870, which is itself a generation behind the 5870. Apart from offering Direct X 11 support, the 5870 is also about twice as powerful as the 4870.

NVidia is pretty much out for the moment, so ATI is the way to go if you need something right now. For a gaming machine today, I'd recommend the 5850 for a 22" screen (1050 x 1680), or the 5870 for a 24" screen (1200 x 1920). The 27" screen in the new iMacs is currently not available separately, but if it was, I'd get at least dual 5850's to drive it, because of the huge amount of pixels.

Only I wouldn't do that anyway, because I don't think it's worth the money to go beyond a 24-incher just yet. Anyway, the iMac only has a 4850, which is a quarter of the raw graphics power of a dual 5850 setup. And even worse is the fact you can't upgrade the video card in the iMac! You might be able to scrape by in some less demanding games today, but the current top iMac is a dead-end in the long run.

I also agree with you the glossy/glassy screen is a pain on the iMac. It's a perfect example of the form-over-function design choices Apple loves to make. Another example, is the way all "ugly" connectors are banished to the back of the computer. I know it would look a little less chic, but wouldn't it be better to put the headphone jack on the FRONT where you can see it, so you don't have to grope in the dark everytime you try to plug in a pair of headphones?

Those kinds of things...


PS3? Naaah.

For a couple of years, consoles overtook PC's in gaming, and many games came to PC's only long after they were released on consoles (if at all). But the new trend is for games to be released for both consoles and the PC at the same time, probably because new tools has made it easier to program games in a portable fashion. And games generally both look and handle better on the PC.

Plus, if you're into MMO's, anything other than a PC would be really silly, even if the MMO was available for consoles. In these games, you tend to install addons, and search for quest help on the web while you play etc. As a console player in an MMO, you'd soon become a second class citizen, not having access to the same stuff as the PC players.

One of the games that is eventually going to be heavily played on our family's gaming machines, is the upcoming MMO from Bioware, Star Wars: The Old Republic. It may or may not get released on consoles (I don't imagine it will), but even so, a PC is the way to go.


Sorry for hijacking this thread with my rants. The only comment I made which is relevant to the article, is to mention the Mac Mini is useless for gaming, full stop. Perhaps I should just have left it at that!

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